Wikiversity:Research ethics

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The ethical guidelines for scientific research in the developed world are well established by governmental agencies, professional societies, universities, and journal publishers.

Research ethics try to answer what actions are good, and what actions are bad. The key issues for research published on Wikiversity are:

  • Verifiability - Research projects must fully document the methods, original motivations, and hypotheses. Research in progress must be clearly labeled as such.
  • Honesty - Research results are always honestly reported and without omissions, even if the results are undesirable, don't fit predetermined beliefs, or proposed hypotheses. Don't lead participants into drawing specific conclusions.
  • Transparency - Research reports must clearly explain everything done in the course of the research in a open and transparent manner so that other participants can draw their own independent conclusions.
  • Objectivity - Strive to conduct and report research in a way that allows experts to independently test, verify and confirm the validity of the research.
  • Subjectivity - You are free to express your views and opinions, but they should be clearly identified as such.
  • Disclosures - Any biases or potential conflicts of interest must be declared at the start of research projects. This fosters trust, and helps the community to understand your point of view.
  • Sources - When sources of previous knowledge, data or other information is relied on cite your sources. This allows examination of those works too. Be clear to distinguish previous knowledge from new knowledge.
  • Safety - Research must be conducted in a safe and lawful manner. Do no harm.
  • Review process - The peer-review process contributes to quality control and is an essential step to ascertain the standing and originality of a research project.

Institutional review boards

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The ethics of research have partly been institutionalized in the United States and some other countries. If you wish to do research involving humans, you are often required to get research approval from an institutional review board (IRB) or institutional ethics committee (IEC). If research hasn't gone through an IRB, you can't get funding, and most co-authors and journals won't touch the research. Research involving the use of animals typically goes through another board review called an institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC).

Protecting humans, animals and nature

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The role of the IRB is to protect research subjects by ensuring that researchers respect and consider the autonomy (independent decision-making through informed consent), benificence (benefits and costs--such as maintaining confidentiality whenever personal information is obtained), and respect for persons (relating to social justice issues) that may become research subjects. These are the foundations of the protection of research subjects as outlined in the Belmont Report.

IRB Exemptions

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There are exceptions to the need for IRB review. One example is research on classroom activities, if there is no intent for publication of findings. The use of aggregate data (without any personal information being obtained) may be exempt. For exempt kinds of research, one may still need to state to an IRB the nature and intent of one's research.

Wikiversity and research ethics

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Wikiversity can do various things in relation to research ethics review requirements. Wikiversity can:

  • collect and facilitate discussions of ethical issues in research, especially topics not addressed by Institutional Review Boards (IRBs).
  • present IRB guidelines to the general public.
  • provide researchers with detailed information about IRB processes
  • connect researchers with IRB services
  • provide descriptions of research guidelines to the developing world. Moving research that couldn't possibly get approval in the developed world to the developing world is a major problem.
  • create an IRB (which would be necessary for any Wikipedia sponsored research involving gathering personal information from research subjects).

Unethical research is not allowed on Wikiversity. This includes any and all research of Wikimedia projects and user activities without prior community approval.

References for researchers on human subjects

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Recommended for researchers - take one of these courses:
These are free, online course with information about the rights and welfare of human participants in research. Anyone who is concerned with the ethics and good practice of research involving human subjects, and who has not taken similar courses, can benefit from taking one of these online courses.

More ethics links: